Cloud over Montego Bay
Stabroek News
July 9, 2003

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In the run-up to the Caricom Summit which ended in Montego Bay, Jamaica last weekend attention had been mainly focussed on the internal difficulties which were bedevilling the establishment of certain new institutions which were of critical importance for the development of the Community. These are the perennial Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). There were also the proposals for the renovation of Community institutions, which have come to be known as proposals for governance. The discussion of these matters must await the availability of more information than has been trickling out of the Summit. As it turned out the Conference deliberations were overtaken by two dominant international issues in Caricom’s increasingly complex relationship with the US Administration namely the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the question of immunity for US nationals from prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

A public intervention by Sir Shridath Ramphal through the publication of his views in the Caribbean media had ensured that the Caricom public were deeply aware of the life and death importance of the “triadic” negotiations in which Caricom was now engaged (see SN Thursday, June 26). These three sets of negotiations are respectively with the European Union, the WTO and for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) sponsored by the USA. Ramphal, aware of US pressure to conclude the FTAA negotiations which had been projected as part of its war on terror, warned that “an FTAA process which runs ahead of WTO negotiations but falls short of them in quality is not only strategically imprudent for the Caribbean but ultimately harmful to Caribbean and developing country arguments at the global level”.

Ramphal therefore recommended that in case of the FTAA Caricom should call “time out”. However Ramphal whose credentials as an integrationist are not in doubt may have misjudged the capacity of a group of small states to confront the US on a matter which that administration considers a vital interest and which moreover is one of a number of vexatious issues in the relationship with the US.

In any case the options were foreclosed by the presence at the Summit of Robert Zoellick, US Trade Representative, a powerful figure in the Bush Administration.

Preceding the Jamaican Summit, the US had hosted a meeting on the state of the negotiations at which Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago had been represented. The discussions with Zoellick in Jamaica may have indicated what form the FTAA will take, whether it will remain hemispheric in scope despite the reluctance or inability of certain major states (Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina) to participate or whether it will consist of bilateral or sub-regional trade agreements. The US is showing a clear preference for the latter. It has concluded a Free Trade Agreement with Chile and is now negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the five Central American Republics who like Caricom states are currently beneficiaries under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).

Some Caricom representatives who attended the FTAA Ministerial meeting in Quito, Ecuador last year November had been impressed by the fact that the US Representatives seemed ready to accord Special and Differential Treatment to Caricom States. It may well be the case that what will be on offer to Caricom will be a sub-regional agreement such as that in the process of negotiation with Central America and which is being called CAFTA. It may not be a coincidence that President Lagos of Chile who was guest at the Summit has offered to make Chile’s negotiating experience available to Caricom.

However in view of Ramphal’s warning the recent assessments by the distinguished WI economist, Norman Girvan, now Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) that the CAFTA negotiations are mired in difficulties are therefore very relevant. Writing in another section of the press Girvan notes that the CAFTA negotiations have become more complicated and difficult than expected. At issue, among other things, is the fact that the latest US offer in respect of duty free exports to the US covers less than is already covered by the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). The challenge facing Central America, Girvan concludes, is to maintain the unity and cohesiveness in its negotiating positions.

It is pertinent to Caricom’s negotiating stance that Zoellick went out of his way in Jamaica, perhaps responding directly to Ramphal, to contend that Caricom should be wary of asking for preferential treatment as this could translate into higher prices for their own consumers.

Little cohesiveness was demonstrated in the Caricom approach to the other major current issues in the US relationship namely in Caricom’s response to the US demand to sign bilateral agreements which would give immunity to US nationals from prosecution in the ICC. Six Caricom States who have ratified the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC - Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago - and who did not accede to the US request have now been subjected to punitive action namely the denial of any further US military assistance. Notable absentees from the US penalty list are Guyana and Jamaica who have not ratified the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC.

In an important sense all Caricom states were under a strong political and moral obligation to ratify as they had played, especially Trinidad and Tobago, vanguard roles in promoting the proposal for ICC and in negotiating its establishment treaty, the Rome Treaty.

One consequence of such diplomatic solidarity (and in keeping with strong, but unwritten practice in the UN system) is that a West Indian, the Trinidadian Karl Hudson-Phillips has been appointed a Judge of the Court. In these circumstances the Caricom states which had ratified could not accede to the US requests which are part of its worldwide campaign to undermine the ICC.

As the process of ratification in this case, one is advised, is of no particular difficulty, non-ratification should be seen, as already mentioned editorially, for what it is, a deliberate tactic for the evasion of US pressure. As such, it is a breaking of ranks with other Caricom partners, a failure to act as a common front as enjoined in the foundation Treaty of Chaguaramas . Such instances of acting alone which could in time destroy the fabric of Community, are occurring with disturbing frequency. Not so long ago Jamaica concluded an Air Agreement with the US which infringed regional commitments. And in Trinidad it was maintained that a Caricom approach to a free trade agreement with Costa Rica was impeding Trinidad’s progress.

It is too easy on this issue to take the moral high ground and portray the US as an international bully. And indeed the Bush White House in its assertion of supreme power has demolished or denounced or undermined treaties and international norms and international organisations which have hitherto provided a security milieu, especially for small states. And the US approach is being emulated.

Very recently the Australian Foreign Minister Downer in announcing that Australia (a pillar of the Commonwealth) was sending troops into the Solomon Islands stated that his country was turning away from international organisation and would in the future act on the basis of coalitions of the willing. Caricom States will have to learn to survive in this unpropitious international environment . Little will be achieved by an exclusive reliance on moral issues.

The Caricom situation must be seen for what it is, a failure in unity, a failure in the coordination of foreign policy and to act in a timely way. The Summit has now belatedly called on all Caricom States to ratify the Rome Treaty.

While the exclusion from US military assistance is apparently automatic under the US legislation in cases of non-compliance with the US request, a Presidential waiver at an earlier stage may have been sought on the grounds that the US military assistance to the Caribbean is inextricably interwoven with the struggle against narcotics trafficking in which there are vital mutual interests as between Caricom and the US. The diplomatic objective in this and other cases should be to ensure that even if the issue cannot be resolved they do not slip into confrontation.

It appears that the Summit has now and at the same time largely nullified its belated action by agreeing that “some Member States may wish to negotiate bilateral non-surrender agreements with the United States if they are advised by their legal authorities that nay agreement into which they enter is consistent with their obligations under the Rome Treaty”.

This development has been deplored by Trinidad Foreign Minister, Knowlson Gift. In short, the call for ratification only papers over the persisting rifts among the Caricom states on this matter.

Caricom States in their early, heady days of Independence had demonstrated remarkable diplomatic skills in playing off to their advantage one Super Power against the other. Now they must learn to live prudently in the US domain, mobilising their diplomatic skills while maintaining a common front so as to ensure reasonable independence of action.